Mr. Stayner’s Murder Trial
The death penalty trial of Cary Stayner was moved from Mariposa County to Santa Clara
County, CA. In May, 2002, Mr. Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1999
murder of three tourists in Yosemite National Park. In mid-July, 2002, the trial began in
Judge Thomas C. Hastings’ courtroom with the prosecution team headed by George
Williamson and the defense team headed by Marcia Morrissey.
On Monday, July 22, the court heard the former motel handyman’s taped confession that he
had given to FBI agents.
According to Fresno Bee reporter Cyndee Fontanta, “In the taped confession, Mr. Stayner
calmly reviewed how he strangled 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso in a motel bathtub near
Yosemite National Park. How he sexually assaulted Juli Sund, 15, for hours before spiriting
her away from the motel room she shared with her mother, 42-year-old Carole Sund, and
“And then, not as calmly, how he carried Juli — “kinda like a groom carrying a bride over
the threshold” — to a lonely vista point near Lake Don Pedro, pledged his love and then cut
her throat as the sun lightened the sky.” Mr. Stayner’s confession to the strangulation
murder of Carole Sund had been played to the court the previous week.
The issue was no longer who committed the murders but whether Mr. Stayner was insane at
the time and whether the confession to the FBI agents was coerced. Mr. Stayner is serving
a life sentence for the Yosemite Park murder of Joie Ruth Armstrong. The issue of whether
Mr. Stayner’s confession was coerced seemed to be resolved when on July 24, the court
heard the recorded demands that Mr. Stayner made to the FBI agents that he wanted
satisfied before he would give them his confession.
Mr. Stayner demanded that his parents be given the reward money, that he be incarcerated
at a prison near his parents’ home, and, to Mr. Stayner’s detriment, that he be given a large
cache of child pornography. Previously, the defense had maintained that the FBI had
coerced Mr. Stayner’s confession. In the end, Mr. Stayner confessed. After days of hearing
the prosecution characterize Mr. Stayner, 41, as a cunning, cold-blooded killer, Judge
Thomas C. Hastings’ court was presented with the defense testimony regarding Mr.
Stayner’s state of mind when he committed the murders.
First, the defense called Dr. Jose Arturo Silva, whose testimony the Fresno Bee’s Cyndee
Fontana described thusly, “In the constellation of mental illness, Cary Stayner alone
apparently could fill the sky. His enduring preoccupation with the creature Bigfoot. The
prophecies of Nostradamus. The nightmares of disembodied heads, the lack of empathy
toward others, the violent fantasies of child rape, the obsessive hair-pulling and more…a
stew of disorders such as pedophilia, voyeurism, social dysfunction, violent fantasies, mild
autism, and even a family tree laden with sexual abuse and mental illness.”
For the next two weeks, the court heard a group of experts testifying to Mr. Stayner’s lack
of criminal culpability due to brain abnormalities and mental illnesses.
In mid-August, two experts debated the photos of Mr. Stayner’s brain and sharply
disagreed. Dr. Joseph Wu, an expert called by the defense, saw abnormalities that could
account for Mr. Stayner’s violent tendencies, whereas Dr. Alan Waxman, called by the
prosecution, saw nothing special to explain Mr. Stayner’s behavior.
Ultimately, the closing arguments present two very different views of Cary Stayner: a cold-
blooded murdering sexual predator and a mentally-ill victim of child abuse who was
overcome by his disabilities.
Morrissey, referring to the testimony of the defense medical experts, said on August 21,
2002, claimed that Mr. Stayner was a long way from being the organized, sophisticated
serial predator that the prosecution suggested.
As reported by Court TV and Associated Press: “In his rebuttal of the defense’s closing
arguments on Thursday, August 23, 2002, prosecutor George Williamson said there was
overwhelming evidence to convict Cary Stayner of first-degree murder and six special
circumstances that could trigger the death penalty.
Williamson said defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey had to “blow smoke” because she didn’t
have facts or the law to support her claims that Mr. Stayner was too crazy to have the
intent to kill required for first-degree murder. Monday, August 26, 2002, the jury in the Mr.
Stayner case took less than five hours to find him guilty of three counts of first-degree
murder, for which he may face the death penalty. He stood emotionless as he was convicted
of the murders of Carole and Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso.
While there were weeks of testimony during the first phase of the trial regarding Mr.
Stayner’s sanity, the second phase of the trial requires that the prosecution prove that Mr.
Stayner was sane and the third phase of the trial will determine his ultimate punishment.
The defense team lost its bid to prevent Dr. Park Dietz from testifying for the prosecution.
Dr. Dietz is a well-known forensic psychiatrist who has testified in a number of major cases,
including the Andrea Yates case.
Winning a case with an insanity plea is usually quite difficult. The defense called Dr. Allison
McInnes, assistant professor of psychiatry and human genetics at the Mount Sinai School of
Medicine in NY. Dr. McInnes addressed the issue of Cary Stayner’s bad genes, which was
described by Fresno Bee reporter Cyndee Fontana:
“The story of Cary Stayner’s family tree rose in bursts of bright color from a white horizontal
chart. Yellow for psychosis. Green for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Red for substance
abuse. Purple for pedophilia. Even more colors for more mental diseases ranging through
four generations down to Mr. Stayner himself — the fruit of a family gene pool marked by
It is Dr. McInnes’ belief that Mr. Stayner was legally insane when he committed the murders
of the four women in Yosemite. Prosecutor George Williamson lost no time in challenging
the credentials of Dr. McInnes in a rigorous cross examination.
Didn’t Mr. Stayner know that he was killing human beings? Didn’t he understand that his
crimes were legally wrong? Dr. McInnes answered in the affirmative.
Dr. Park Dietz made a very strong showing. “He knew what he was doing was wrong,” Dr.
Dietz said emphatically. In his extensive testimony, he pointed out that the murders were
planned, carried out with deception, covered up and lied about. Dietz called Mr. Stayner
“one of the higher-functioning criminals” he had encountered.
On Monday, September 16, 2002, the jury determined that Mr. Stayner was sane at the
time of the murders. This decision took the jury less than four hours to make.
CNN reported Wednesday, October 9, 2002 that the jury recommended that Cary Stayner
should die for killing three Yosemite National Park tourists in 1999, rejecting defense pleas
to spare a mentally ill man twisted by genetics and a traumatic childhood.
After six hours of deliberation, the jurors rejected the option of recommending life in prison.
Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 12, and an appeal is automatic.
The courtroom was silent after the decision was read. Mr. Stayner showed no visible